Simple Messages from the Power 9®

(Alexis and I were the happiest humans when this photo was taken, making it appropriate for this post).

I am going to get a little bit off topic here, but ever since I learned about the Blue Zones (the five places in the world with the longest-lived and healthiest people), I was so intrigued and just had to talk about it. Dan Buettner, a National Geographic Fellow and author, discovered these zones and along with other researchers found nine common factors among them. It is called the Power 9®, and he discusses the diet and lifestyle habits of these individuals who live to be 100 and beyond. In this post I am talking about the first three, and will continue with the rest in future posts. There is so much to say and I am over-excited!

Below are the first three of the Power 9®:

1. Move Naturally    

It seems to be a common mission in this day and age to discover the best and most efficient workout that will result in miracles – whether it’s HIIT training, a workout DVD that guarantees a sculpted body, or a Zumba class offered by the local gym. But when we stop to think about it, being healthy and in shape didn’t begin to exist once gyms and televisions were created. So how was it possible to get a good workout in without the personal trainers, equipment, classes, and machines that are all available to us today? The answer is simple. The world’s longest lived people move naturally throughout the day because their daily chores and activities already incorporate physical labor.

Imagine how many steps a day we would take without the simple pleasure of a car, walking a few miles each day just to do our everyday errands and chores. It’s no wonder we now have to create a tool that we wear around our wrists just to make sure we get at least 10,000 steps a day. Sometimes it’s a struggle to even come close to 10,000 steps without dedicating extra time outside of our daily routines for exercise. Sitting at a desk for 8 hours a day is not quite so conducive to moving naturally.

So what does this mean for us? Do we have to get new jobs that are more physically demanding just to potentially live longer? No – but we just might have to put in a little more effort and get a bit more clever to work with the environment and routine we’ve got.

Here are some ideas:

  • If you do have a low activity job, get up every hour at work and move around, even for just a few seconds. Your mind and muscles will thank you for it.
  • If you do live walking distance from work or any errands you might have, take the opportunity! The environment and your health will thank you for it.
  • Find hobbies and activities that you enjoy that involve movement. Get-togethers with friends don’t always have to involve eating and drinking. Trust me, you’ll have a lot of time to catch up and learn about one another on a hike or walk just as well.

office-workouts-workplace-ecard-someecardsImage via Hostgarcia

…and some suggestions you might have already heard a thousand times

  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator: a free workout for your hamstrings!
  • Park a little bit further away from where you are trying to go. You’re wasting more time trying to find the closest spot possible… since that’s what everyone else is trying to do too.
  • Your workout does not have to be all at once. I don’t think anyone can argue that they do not have 10 minute increments of time on their hands in the day. Take those small amounts of time to move around three times per day, and that is a 30 minute workout right there! And if you still don’t think you have the time, shave off a few of those minutes you’re spending on your phone, watching the television, or on Facebook. (I’m just assuming, but I think it’s most likely a fair assumption).

2. Purpose

According to Dan Buettner’s “Reverse Engineering Longevity”, simply having a sense of purpose can extend our life expectancy up to seven years! I don’t know about you, but I think that’s pretty amazing. Normally, we associate health and longevity with nutrition and exercise, but it extends beyond so much more than that. Our outlook and attitude that we wake up with each day about our lives and the world we live in has a great impact on our overall health. Knowing your purpose means starting each day with a reason to do so, most likely translating into a more positive attitude, motivation, and fulfillment.

Of course, this is easier said than done. Even if we do have a sense of purpose and have always known how we wanted to spend our lives or contribute to society in some way, how common is it to land your dream job or feel that you’re living the life you’ve always wanted right from the start of your independence? Think of how many people complain about their first entry-level positions, or all of the Hollywood stars that started out waiting tables just to pay for their acting/dancing/singing classes. Then think of the answer to that question: Not so common! The point is, everything takes time. Just because you might not be living the exact life you want right now, does not mean it’s impossible to start working toward it, which gives you a purpose in and of itself.

So what do we do to figure out what our purpose is? A purpose does not have any one definition – it can be anything from raising children, to taking care of your grandmother, to being a famous actress, to traveling the world – everything and anything that gives you a reason to wake up in the morning. Do yourself a favor and carve out the time for some self-reflection. Figure out what it is that inspires you, that you feel you are good at, and most importantly, what makes you happy. Then, decide what you can do to take the first step to get there. It could take 1 year or it could 10 years, but at least you’ll feel purposeful on the journey there.

purpose

3. Down Shift

There is nothing more important than identifying stress relief activities or tactics that work for you and that you enjoy. We all experience stress, including those individuals that may live in a more relaxed environment than others. However, the difference between those that utilize techniques to manage the stress versus those that do not have a clear way of understanding the emotion and how to control it, can mean the difference of health and sickness.

This might help to break it down a little bit. Stress not only raises our blood pressure and weakens our immune system, but also causes inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation can lead to a number of inflammatory diseases including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. It seems like just another emotion we all deal with on a daily basis, but understanding the effects it can have on our body allows us to prioritize stress management in regards to our overall health.

So what are some ways to deal with stress, since we sure as heck aren’t going to get rid of it altogether?

 Image via GIPHY

Here are some thoughts:

  • Exercise: There’s nothing like some good ‘ol exercise to get your blood flowing and your mind cleared. By raising your feel good hormones (endorphins), it’s a natural way to boost your mood and attitude toward whatever you might be facing. I understand that sometimes it feels like the last thing you would want to do after a long, tiring day, but honestly, have you ever regretted working out once it’s said and done? I always try to imagine how good I will feel after the fact versus continuing to feel the stress and sluggishness of the present moment, and use that as my source of motivation to get me moving – even if it’s as simple as a short walk.
  • Meditation: When is the last time you truly cleared your mind, taking a few moments just for yourself? By focusing solely on your breath, inhale – hold – exhale, it can help to drown out all the background noise in your head, and in turn, clear your mind. With the constant distractions in our everyday lives amplified by the overuse of technology, we sometimes forget the power that just a simple moment of internal peace and quiet can do.
  • Socialization: My favorite stress relief routine identified among inhabitants of the Blue Zones is what the Sardinians choose to do: happy hour. Oftentimes feeling stressed leads to internalization and the desire to be left alone. But sometimes, simply having fun with friends and getting your mind off of what’s worrying you might be just what the doctor ordered. What good will it do to stay home alone and drown in your own anxiety-filled, repetitious thoughts? Surrounding yourself with people that you actually enjoy being around (rather than those toxic individuals that have a tendency to bring everyone down), will boost your mood and probably give you a more positive outlook on any stress you might be dealing with. Whatever might be going on, there is comfort in knowing you are not alone.

I hope that these first three factors were inspiring in some way and gave you something new to think about. We all have the power to improve our overall health despite what our genetic make-up might say. Buettner points out that according to the Danish Twin Study (1995-2005), only 20% of our longevity is determined by genes. So let’s stop making excuses and start getting to work!

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Study it and love it! More to come on the next 6! 🙂

Sweet, Sweet, Summertime

Spring has arrived, and will hopefully bring us an abundance of flowers, warmer weather, and a new bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Although the season has just begun, one walk around the mall and the sight of the store displays will have us daydreaming about beach vacations and summertime barbecues. Display after display of disproportioned mannequins in bikinis, posters of models running on the beach, and new racks filled with skimpy clothing reminds us of the approaching summer. Unfortunately, while there is much to look forward to in the coming months – outdoor activities, longer days, vacations, and even those delicious barbecues – a sense of anxiety may be the reality for many. Summer means bathing suits and bathing suits mean exposure and vulnerability to feeling worse about our bodies than we already do. To make matters worse, we seem to find others all around us who have, by all indications, achieved a state of perfection.

Now is the time that we can expect to find humorous memes all over social media about how our “summer bodies” aren’t ready; maybe they feature a picture of an adorable dog with rolls covering its body, or a cute chubby baby in a bathtub.

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Photo via ME.ME

Don’t get me wrong. I do find the humor in these kinds of images, and I know they are only meant for entertainment as we scroll through our Facebook or Instagram. The problem is, there is an underlying message there that stays with us: figure out a way to quickly lose weight in a short amount of time in order to look acceptable in a bathing suit. The key phrase here is, quickly lose weight”. There is absolutely nothing wrong with actively adopting healthier eating and exercise habits, but this is most successful in strides, as an ongoing process. Without this mindset, it is as if the motivation to lose weight is coming from a state of panic, and nothing good can come from quick-fix, fast weight loss. It is not uncommon for something as simple as an upcoming beach party to start the beginning stages of an individual’s disordered eating pattern, and he or she may not realize until many months later that these new behaviors may be a cause for concern.

So… how do many of us opt to get “summer ready”? Maybe by cutting out a food group that we think causes stomach bloating; maybe, we eliminate half of the day’s intake; or, we go on a juice cleanse; hey, how about avoiding fruits because those have sugar and sugar is terrible for our summer body preparation, right?! Most of the time when we change something in our diets resulting in lower calorie intake than what our bodies are used to, weight loss is fast in the beginning. Step on the scale after two days of dieting and maybe it’s already reflecting a two-pound weight loss!

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This serves as a reinforcement to continue whatever new habits have been adopted in our diet, however unhealthy they may be. Before long we become obsessed with weighing ourselves, and stepping on the scale is the first thing on our minds when we wake up in the morning. Many individuals tell me that they become addicted to a daily weigh-in, thinking that staying on top of any slight weight gain will keep them on track. The reason this can do more harm than good is because our weight is constantly fluctuating on a daily basis for reasons other than true weight gain – such as, fluid retention, lack of sleep, or changes in hormones. This is why it’s best to monitor weight once a week, on the same day at the same time, in order to see real changes over time. As disappointing as it may sound, once our bodies become used to a change in diet and exercise after the first week or two, a healthy weight loss pattern will only be about one to two pounds per week. Because of this, it’s no wonder that seeing the same number each day on that darn machine can lead to disappointment and self-loathing.

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You might be asking, what’s the big deal about wanting to lose a few pounds to look good in our bathing suits? Well, we should feel confident in our own skin, and if that means toning up and making better food choices for ourselves, then there is definitely no harm or shame in that! Even if the goal is for noticeable changes in our outward appearance, there is no doubt that healthier food choices and physical activity will have us feeling better and happier, too! You are what you eat, right? The point is, why not try to be kind to our bodies throughout the year, rather than deciding that the only time our health and fitness is important is when we realize our bodies will soon be exposed for others to judge? We deserve to make our happiness, confidence, and self-love a priority throughout the year, because we owe ourselves that much. And, while a perfectly sculpted body might be nice to have, achieving it does not mean that we have found a way to truly accept ourselves. Being kind to our bodies has nothing to do with the number on the scale, but about fueling it properly with whole, natural foods and about continuing to move throughout the day. Trust me when I say there is nothing kind about living off of vegetable juice for a few months to drop some weight quickly and easily, then resorting back to regular eating habits and gaining it back again. Instead of reaching a healthy weight gradually and enjoying a new look that we can maintain throughout the year, we will only feel discouraged when the pounds come creeping back up after the bathing suit is put away.

Your value is much more than a number on the scale. If you lose one pound a week, so what? That is fifty-two pounds in one year. The best part is, you won’t be hungry.

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Comparison

Today, a passage in the book I am reading, Truly Madly Guilty, by Liane Moriarty, caught my eye, and matched up perfectly with the theme I wanted to talk about in this blog entry. In the scene, one woman (a married mother of two, probably in her thirties), is admiring and complimenting the physique of another mother in her neighborhood who is around the same age as she. The woman is wearing a tight white t-shirt and ripped jeans and still looks like a model. The married mother of two compliments the sexy blonde, but the latter does not know how to respond because “[y]ou weren’t allowed to be proud of your body. Women expected humility on this topic” (Moriarty, 322).

What I want to know is, why is that? We can and should be proud of our bodies and all that they allow us to do, yet, somehow, we are made to believe that no matter how we choose to feel about the way we look, the outcome is a double-edged sword. If we accept a compliment, we are narcissistic and show-offs, yet if we remain modest or become self-conscious when others notice our bodies, we clearly lack confidence. The bottom line is that we compare ourselves to others all the time, and there is nothing comfortable in that behavior, neither for the envious nor for the envied. I am going to go out on a limb here and guess that at least once in your life, you have looked at someone else, whether live, on the T.V. screen, or in a picture, and thought to yourself, “I want to look like that.” What we must work toward accepting is that it is not only physically impossible to look exactly like someone else, but also that we should not wish for it. What kind of a world would it be if everyone looked the same? Not aesthetically pleasing at all.

Image result for I'm 100% awesome and you know it GIF Photo via GIPHY

Let’s talk about why a “one size fits all” concept for body shape, diet, and exercise is a recipe for failure. First of all, genetics play a major role in determining our body types. Do you ever feel like you’re eating the same way as someone else, and maybe even doing the exact same workout routine, and wondering why your body isn’t changing in the same way? You can beat yourself up over this, cut back on calories, or work out for an extra hour to the point of discomfort, to try to match the other person’s results. The only result you will achieve is frustration. The other option is to understand your own body. While it can be an unfair reality that we all have different metabolisms, leading to our building muscles and losing fat at different rates, there are certain factors that we CAN change.  What we can change is our attitude. We can be kind to ourselves and celebrate the ability to live a healthy lifestyle, with proper nutrition and exercise. If that means being pear-shaped instead of a string bean, then so be it. Is it really so important to have a specific butt shape or a six-pack? What is important is our HAPPINESS, and I can tell you that if we are killing ourselves trying to maintain or reach a weight that is not natural for our bodies, the only thing we’ll be feeling is irritable and HANGRY.

                                                               Photo credit: Pets Lady

This idea even applies to the way we choose to eat. For example, I am not a vegetarian or a vegan, however, that doesn’t mean that it is impossible to maintain a healthy diet without the consumption of animal products. What works for my body will not be the same as what works for yours, and vice versa. I am always asked the question, “What is the best diet out there? Low fat? Low carb? Vegetarian? Intermittent fasting?” and my answer every time is that there is no best diet. What I can say is that as long as you’re getting all of the essential nutrients in the right quantities by eating a balanced diet, making sure you’re fueling yourself adequately, and living by the motto everything in moderation”, then you will be good to go. Eat the way that makes you feel your best and most importantly, choose a pattern of eating that can be sustained over the long term, rather than last for just a few months or a few years.

Amy Schumer said it best in her new Netflix stand-up show Amy Schumer: The Leather Edition. She discusses her struggle with her weight and the added pressures from Hollywood to be thin. She worked hard to achieve the desired “look” but felt unnatural at the body weight she reached and went back to her “old self”. She received a lot of criticism for gaining weight and is now speaking up against her body-shamers. Her response to them comes from the lessons she has learned while watching her father be stripped of a simple pleasure that we take for granted every day: walking. Her father has MS and is confined to a wheelchair. Schumer ends her show with words that should help her audience, and us,  reset priorities: “You’re alive. You can move. You feel good!”

And with that, I leave you with these words of wisdom by Theodore Roosevelt:

Image result for comparison is the thief of joy printable Photo credit: Skinny Artist

Finding That Balance

As a dietitian, I am constantly listening to individuals’ personal health & wellness journeys, or perhaps their desires/fears/hesitations to embark on the road to a healthier lifestyle. Unfortunately, oftentimes reflection can bring with it a stream of negative emotions and attitudes about ourselves, our past experiences, and ultimately, how all of that affects the way we look today.

I am always hearing comments like, “and that’s how I got fat”; “I never used to look like this”; “look at this picture of me 20 years ago and how skinny I was!”; “ he/she and I eat the same foods, but I gain weight and he/she doesn’t! It isn’t fair!”. Any of these sound familiar? The problem is, it doesn’t just stop at work – in a safe, private room where the only people are the client and myself. These types of comments and conversations have become commonplace in our world today, and because of that, we are all listening.

Have you ever gone out with a group of friends and suddenly felt awful about yourself because you had intended to enjoy a relaxing dinner and possibly order something other than a skimpy salad? A friend’s simple remark of, “I’m so disgusting today because I ate a piece of pizza,” or “I need to exercise for 3 hours tomorrow to make up for what I’m eating right now” can set at least one, if not everyone, in the group down a dangerous path of body shaming. This kind of talk is contagious. You might find yourself no longer enjoying the night because the only conversation you are a part of is the one trapped inside your mind in response to the one you have just heard. You find yourself silently wondering, “Did I eat healthy today? When was the last time I exercised? Am I gaining weight as we speak? What will the scale say tomorrow!?” I think it’s safe to say that we are all hoping for a fun night out – something we all need as a release from our daily stresses – but thoughts like these can serve as a roadblock to that goal.

So what is it that we can do to fix this? Whatever happened to a simple, casual dinner with friends where everyone orders what he or she wants, even if the person to the left of you is having a skinny grilled shrimp appetizer, and the person to your right is feasting on a Diet Coke? Well, I think a great first place to start is to let go of comparison. And believe me, this is easier said than done. I want you all to know that just because I am writing about this topic, it does not mean that I am suggesting that I never struggle with any of these issues. We are all aware of how we feel or think we should feel about our bodies on a daily basis, whether by the media telling us how we should look, by overhearing a conversation at the store, or by simply sizing ourselves up in the mirror as part of our morning routine; however, we must stop to realize that we are all INDIVIDUALS with our own unique bodies. When we do this, it becomes easier to understand that comparing, for example, a 5 foot 7 inch athletic physique to a cute 5 foot hourglass figure, makes no sense at all. In future blogs, I will further elaborate on why it is that a one-size-fits all image is impossible to achieve, but for now, I would like to describe what I hope to accomplish in this space.

I am a firm believer in educating people and promoting health and wellness based on sound scientific evidence, and of course, I will always advocate for a healthy lifestyle; however, I also believe in body positivity, and sometimes working on this has to be the first step on the road to wellness. Once you treat your body like the gift that it is, it will be easier to nourish it in a healing way. I want you to understand that food is medicine and much of the time we are feeding ourselves to get the nutrients that we NEED…but other times we are feeding it because of tastes or textures that we WANT, and that’s okay too! Yup the dietitian said it … giving into a craving is not the end all be all, and is sometimes better than ignoring it altogether! There is a balance to everything in life, and working on that relationship between our thoughts about food and how it will affect us holistically (physically, mentally, and emotionally) is just what I would love for us to work on. I want this so that we can EAT, DRINK, And Learn to Be MERRY while doing it!